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Recalling Rita Lavelle and Ann Burford

These scandals seem to occur as corporate influence comes to dominate the policy agenda and industry interests seek to roll back environmental protections from the inside of government.
~~~ Bill Wolfe

Today’s news regarding EPA’s most recent in a long series of abuses to supress gobal warming science recalls corruption and environmental crimes of the Reagan Administration. According to the Bergen Record:

Lautenberg wants EPA chief to step down

But Senate leaders have gone far beyond that and seek criminal investigation of EPA. According to the Washington Post and Guardian of London:

Democratic senators call for investigation of US environmental agency
Elana Schor in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday July 29 2008

Amid intensifying scrutiny of the US environmental protection agency’s (EPA) refusal to act on climate change, four Democratic senators today asked federal prosecutors to investigate the EPA chief for alleged perjury and obstruction of Congress.

The call for a justice department probe of EPA administrator Stephen Johnson – coupled with a plea for his resignation from Democrats – follows a darkening cloud of controversy surrounding the agency.

“Johnson’s EPA has shown an extraordinary disregard for the law,” Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate environment committee, told reporters today.

“It’s unlawful, the things they have done. And by extension, they’ve shown a disregard for the people that we represent and for all the American people.”

The EPA has refused repeated requests from Congress to explain its December denial of California’s request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, a move that overruled the agency’s own career scientists.

In response to the California controversy, the EPA told employees not to talk to internal auditors, Congress or the media, according to a leaked email released yesterday by green campaigners.

In the June 16 email, obtained by the campaign group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), the EPA told its officials not to answer questions on pollution enforcement – even those from the agency’s in-house auditors.

“If you are contacted directly by the [auditors’] office or [congressional investigators] requesting information of any kind … please do not respond to questions or make any statements,” the email said.

This is not the first time that EPA has been the focus of political scandal and investigation. These scandals seem to occur as corporate influence comes to dominate the policy agenda and industry interests seek to roll back environmental protections from inside of government.

To all government officials out there – this is not the legacy and epitaph you want:

Anne Gorsuch Burford, 62, Dies; Reagan EPA Director
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 22, 2004; Page B06

Anne M. Gorsuch Burford, 62, the Environmental Protection Agency director who resigned under fire in 1983 during a scandal over mismanagement of a $1.6 billion program to clean up hazardous waste dumps, died of cancer July 18 at Aurora Medical Center in Colorado.

Her 22-month tenure was one of the most controversial of the early Reagan administration. A firm believer that the federal government, and specifically the EPA, was too big, too wasteful and too restrictive of business, Ms. Burford cut her agency’s budget by 22 percent. She boasted that she reduced the thickness of the book of clean water regulations from six inches to a half-inch.

Republicans and Democrats alike accused Ms. Burford of dismantling her agency rather than directing it to aggressively protect the environment. They pointed to budgets cuts for research and enforcement, to steep declines in the number of cases filed against polluters, to efforts to relax portions of the Clean Air Act, to an acceleration of federal approvals for the spraying of restricted pesticides and more. Her agency tried to set aside a 30-by-40-mile rectangle of ocean due east of the Delaware-Maryland coast where incinerator ships would burn toxic wastes at 1,200 degrees centigrade.

Ms. Burford was forced to resign after she was cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over Superfund records, arguing that they were protected by executive privilege. Ms. Burford acted under President Ronald Reagan’s orders, with the advice of the Justice Department and against her own recommendation, her colleagues told the press at the time. A few months later, in what one of her aides called a “cold-blooded, treacherous act of political callousness,” the Justice Department announced it would no longer represent her because it was involved in investigations into corruption at the EPA.

Contrast that tawdry legacy with the Official Spin on Burford:

Anne M. Gorsuch (Burford)

[EPA press release – May 20, 1981]

Rita Lavelle Reports Motive for Grant Delay
Published: April 8, 1985

Rita M. Lavelle, former assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic waste fund, says she now recalls being told that the agency delayed awarding a grant for political reasons.

Miss Lavelle, dismissed from her E.P.A. post two years ago, was interviewed last week in Washington, D.C.

Miss Lavelle said Anne McGill Burford, who headed the agency, wanted in mid-1982 to delay the cleanup grant for the Stringfellow toxic waste dump in Riverside County.

She added Mrs. Burford feared that Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. might get the credit if the cleanup plan were successful, and she did not want to help his bid for the Senate. Governor Brown was defeated.

Mrs. Burford, who resigned two years ago, testified at a Congressional hearing that she delayed the Stringfellow grant because she had some doubts whether it fully complied with E.P.A.’s regulations.

Contrast the tawdry reality with the Official spin on Lavelle:
Rita M. Lavelle
[EPA press release – February 18, 1982]

  1. eyesofsussex
    August 3rd, 2008 at 14:30 | #1

    NOW they’re investigating the EPA???
    Didn’t they think something was amiss when Christie Whitman was told to announce that the air at Ground Zero was fit to breathe???
    The only thing the EPA hasn’t done, to un-do science, is to declare the Earth flat and that the Sun orbits the Earth!!!

  2. unprovincial
    August 3rd, 2008 at 21:55 | #2

    eyeofsussex: I am no fan of Christie Whitman but I can tell you that she did not say the air was fit to breathe at ground zero. She said the air was fine in Lower Manhattan. She was observed telling the people working at ground zero that they should be wearing respirators. They roundly ignored her (probably because she was a political appointee and a woman). Various workers said that the respirators kept getting “clogged”. Well, duh……..what does that tell you then? The rescue operation was a city operation. The firemen and construction crews reported to city staff. Once it was fairly obvious that there were no more survivors, the rescue became a (body) recovery operation. So there was no need to rush in and search for body parts and put people’s lives at risk by breathing asbestos, etc. In other words, if someone needs to be blamed, it’s Rudy Guiliani. Or maybe George Bush to apease the people. Doubtless he got re-elected in part because he stood on the pile with the firemen and said he would make those who did this pay…………funny though, we’re still waiting.

  3. nohesitation
    August 4th, 2008 at 08:29 | #3

    unprovncial – gotta strongly disagreee wit you on this.
    There is a Curt decsion that found Whitman’s actions “shcocked the conscience” adn there is a EPA Inpsector General’s Report.
    There is also a whistleblower lawsuit by former EPA Ombudsman High Kaufman.
    They all go into great detail to demonstrate Whitman – following White House orders to open Wall Street adn downplay the risks – mislead the public and ignored the recommendations of EPA scientists.
    Google – I can get ypu th Kaufman lawsuit filings – shoot me an email. Or I can post a link – it’s up on PEER website:

  4. unprovincial
    August 5th, 2008 at 19:29 | #4

    You misunderstood me. I’m talking about the air in the IMMEDIATE vicinity of the towers, not all of Lower Manhattan. Whether Whitman fell on her sword for Bush regarding whether or not the residents of Lower Manhattan were safe, I can’t say. But I know that workers on “the pile” were provided respirators which most of them were trained to wear prior to 9/11 as all firemen and others who work in hazardous environments are trained to wear. And they were available as I know someone who was there and gave them dozens from DEP to wear. And I know of someone who reported seeing Whitman tell them they should be wearing respirators and she was ignored. If the workers in the recovery operation eventually got sick, they can’t blame Whitman, no matter how much people may want it to be her fault. The fireman and others were in a city-run rescue/recovery operation. EPA was NOT in charge of the cleanup at the pile. They were there simply to monitor the air quality.

  5. nohesitation
    August 6th, 2008 at 08:51 | #5

    unprovincial – you really need to read the EPA IG Report.
    EPA’s role was limited for political reasons (i.e. to keep Wall Street open and downplay the risks).
    They have far more legal authority and responsibility than “simply to monitor air quality”. They abdicated to local lead for political not scientific or legal reasons.
    EPA’s cleanup authority and huge cleanup liability $$$’s could have addressed real risks in southern Manhattan.
    Again, this is NOT about the pile.

  6. unprovincial
    August 6th, 2008 at 21:54 | #6

    Well, I was responding to Eyesofsussex’ original post of “the air at Ground Zero was fit to breathe”. Ground Zero is the pile.

  7. unprovincial
    August 6th, 2008 at 21:55 | #7

    Well, I was responding to Eyesofsussex’ original post of “the air at Ground Zero was fit to breathe”. Ground Zero is the pile.

  1. February 1st, 2017 at 12:29 | #1
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